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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

When should 'Big Brother' watch us?

Sunday, June 1, 2003

The term "Big Brother" has been around since George Orwell penned his landmark novel "1984" to describe an oppressive government always watching the citizenry, always invading private lives, always eroding freedoms. It has come to be a symbol and battle cry against larger government and especially those aspects of government that lean toward the questionable side of monitoring society.

Two law enforcement cases recently have fallen into the "Big Brother" category by opponents who say the government is going too far in an obsessive attempt to monitor behavior. Let me first tell of the two incidents and then share some thoughts. You've probably heard of both stories.

First, police in Kissimmee, Fla., dressed undercover police officers as homeless men and then posted them near busy traffic intersections. The undercover cops appeared to be panhandling for money when in fact, they were looking for traffic violators running stop lights, speeding, etc. Homeless advocates quickly branded the tactic as "Big Brotherism" and said they were appalled at the practice. Police responded by pointing out that 171 drivers were ticketed for running traffic lights during the undercover operation.

Meanwhile in another Florida community, police dressed as McDonald's employees to spot wrongdoing inside of vehicles going through the drive-through window at the hamburger chain. Police said McDonald's employees had become angry when they saw drug violators, weapons and children not strapped into safety car seats regularly pass through the drive-in window. So the police put a cop in a McDonald's uniform and in two days, made six arrests and issued an additional 29 citations for minor offenses they witnessed through the drive-through window.

Opponents of this police tactic also quickly cried "foul" and vowed to fight the arrests in court.

So here are two examples of police using unique tactics to catch criminals. The question is: Are these law enforcement approaches crossing the line toward a "Big Brother" society or are they simply ingenious approaches that follow a non-traditional law enforcement scheme? Your opinion is a personal one that crosses political lines. And there is no easy answer.

It may be impossible to have a little "Big Brother" approach just as it's impossible to be a "little pregnant." Either you are or you aren't. We all want the government in some ways to watch over our well being, i.e. health care, public safety, etc. But we also universally oppose the erosion of freedom that too much "Big Brother" could well bring. Either way, it's a delicate choice.

As a young man, I thought myself a Libertarian - one who wants virtually no government intervention and who believes the government should perform only those functions as outlined in the Constitution. But maturity, I believe, has brought a realization that some people simply don't play by the rules and limited government intervention and monitoring is essential.

Did the police in Florida go too far to catch traffic violators or pot smokers driving through McDonald's? The answer dwells within your heart and soul. All I know is that some segments of our society will never follow the laws of this land. And since that is a fact, maybe it's not wrong for law enforcement to take bold and borderline approaches to address these violators.

I abhor the thought of a "Big Brother" society. But I abhor more the constant stream of people who flaunt the laws of this land and pose a threat to the overwhelming majority of society. For those scofflaws of society, maybe the "Big Brother" approach is the only effective tool.

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